Reps. Seek to Slam Surveillance Back Door

A pair of legislators, one from each party, have proposed amending the USA Liberty Act to toughen protections against warrantless searches and seizures of emails and other online communications.

Last month, House Judiciary Committee chair Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and ranking member John Conyers (D-Mich.) introduced the USA Liberty Act, which would reform and reauthorize Sec. 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which authorizes the surveillance of communications from non-U.S. residents. The bill, according to the Computer & Communications Industry Association, partially closes the "backdoor" loophole through which Americans' communications--if they are on the other end of that conversation with non-U.S. resident--can be viewed without a warrant.

But another bipartisan pair of legislators, Reps. Ted Poe (R-Tex.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), want to shut that door completely.

Their amendment would prevent the warrantless searches of Americans' calls, emails and texts.

“Although the USA Liberty Act makes some necessary reforms, as currently drafted, we believe the bill does not adequately protect the constitutional rights of Americans," Poe and Lofgren said. "As written, the bill allows the National Security Agency (NSA) to continue warrantless searches of U.S. persons’ data without restriction, and in most circumstances will also allow the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to continue searching the Section 702 database without a warrant."

Poe and Lofgren argued that the amendment will provide the necessary constitutional protections while giving intelligence authorities the ability to target terrorists and other overseas targets.

Congress has been trying for years to agree on the right balance of privacy protection and going after foreign threats to national security.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.